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[ with poems by Iain Twiddy and Martin Figura]

Question: What do these 3 scenarios have in common?

1 – “What do you want for supper?”
“I dunno, anything’s OK, whatever you want.”
“I could make some soup.”
“I don’t really feel like soup but anything you want’s OK.”
“I could heat up that Chinese.”
“Nah, I’m all left-overed out.”
“All right, what do you want.”
“I dunno. What do you want?”

2 – “OK Amelia, it’s time for lessons.”
“But I want to color.”
“You know every morning is lesson time. This week is the letter ‘N’.”
“I don’t feel like letters. I want to color.”
“Hmm, how about color for fifteen minutes and then letters?”
[Silence. Wiggles.] “OK. You can set the timer.”

3 – “Damn, look how muddy the creek is today.”
“Yeah, all that rain, looks like tomato soup.”
“It’s all the runoff from those tobacco fields. Isn’t there a law against that?”
“Hey, it’s their land. They can do whatever they want.”
“Maybe so but it’s our drinking water.”

Answer: 3 scenarios, all politics.

Politics with a little ‘p’: transactions in which each party has a stake. No stake = no politics. If it really doesn’t matter what we have for supper then all choices are equal, but if it does matter and I don’t make my position plain then I’m practicing passive aggressive politics. If there’s room within our politics for each of us to have our positions honored then we are practicing egalitarian politics. And if my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are infringed by the practice of your similar rights, then it’s time for reality politics.

Whose stake is most important? Whose voice is loudest? Whose choice carries the greatest weight? Sounds like we’re edging into the realm of big ‘P’ Politics.

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This week I received in the post from Ireland Poets Meet Politics 2020, an anthology of poems from the Hungry Hill Writing Tenth International Open Poetry Competition. The winning poem is Contactless by Isabel Palmer, about COVID-19, but the range of politics with big ‘P’ and little ‘p’ ranges from war, genocide, and sectarian violence to displacement, racism, sexism, redundancy, and annoying neighbors.

These two poems from the anthology in particular spoke to me: the wholeness of the earth cast aside for the extraction of profit; the wholeness of individuals cast aside once profit has been extracted. Whose voices are stifled and ignored? Whose choices are judged unworthy and irrelevant?

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Borderlands

We found the world had already been claimed,
so ground out, drained, ironed in straight lines
– like the bed of the Red Sea to the verges –
that churches were ships, farmsteads treasure islands,

every centimetre weighed up for worth,
milked for produce, mined for living ores.
So existence thinned to frail causeways,
like streaks of light leaking from bellies of cloud,

to quaggy headlands, trench-squidge tracks, rivers
unassailable through the stars of barbed wire,
where even the wind seemed prevailed upon
to hurry and be gone the way of the sea;

we were deigned becks and streams like beaten dogs,
drains that ushered in, eeled for Holland,
fenced-off trees extending the invitation to climb
like an amputated limb, and holiday lashings

of untrampable grass, the spurt of trespass,
the ballast crunchy as bone between tracks,
feeling the self stripped into sin like a corpse
dumped overnight by the trash-flowered siding.

And so it went on, drilling, implanting – until,
surveying the banished domains, roaming
the crumbling borders – it gradually exposed
how if the world was lack, and doing without,

there was nothing to stop us making it up.

Iain Twiddy

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The Remaining Men

When the men surfaced for the last time and dispersed
some were left over. These men wandered about the town
until the each found their own particular sweet spot.
Then they just stood there, looking out over the scarred coast
through red-rimmed eyes to the rough brown sea.

As the days went by people gave up asking them
why so still and could they fetch someone
or something? They became like street signage,
A-boards, parked prams or tied up dogs; something
to be manoeuvred around. As the months when by

the men became hardened to difficult weather
filling their coat pockets with hail. During the great storm
of Eighty-Seven, their caps blew off and went cartwheeling
down the streets with bin lids. As the years went by
the slagheaps faded to green and saplings were planted.

The men began to petrify into monuments. When
the new road for the business park went through
a lot of them were tipped back onto trollies, like the ones
railway porters used to use, then loaded on to flatbed trucks
with the traffic cones. Most were broken down for aggregate.

The lucky ones were sold off as novelty porch lights
and stood outside front doors on the new estate
illuminating small front lawns and driveways.
As the decades went by, saplings became sycamores
and elms and named Colliery Wood. In autumn

the early morning light on them was glorious
and cycle paths made their way there. The remaining
men were defaced by graffiti and badly worn
by then; many considered them to be an eyesore.
When children asked what they were, not everyone

could remember and of those that did, few were believed.
As the centuries went by, they all but disappeared,
only the circle in the park remained. Archaeologists
and historians disagree about how they came to be there
and what they might have been used for.

Martin Figura

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Both selections are from Hungry Hill Writing Anthology: Poets Meet Politics international open poetry competition 2020, judged by Bernard O’Donoghue. Editor Jennifer Russell. © 2020 Hungry Hill Writing and contributors. hungryhillwriting.eu.

Iain Twiddy studied literature an university and lived for several years in northern Japan. His poetry has appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Harvard Review, Stand, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere.

Martin Figura lives in Norwich with Helen Ivory and sciatica. Together they began hosting Live from The Butchery Zoom readings during Lockdown with leading guest poets. A new edition of Whistle (Cinnamon Press) was published in 2018. His new theatre show Shed is interrupted but ready to go.

My own poem, Phenology Notebook April 7 2020, was shortlisted and appears in the anthology. Thank you!

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AfterwordThe essential benefit of having grandchildren is that they provide the grandparents with something to talk about over supper which is not politics!

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with three poems by Wendell Berry]

Y’all sure do favor!

So folks say when they first see my father and me together. He’s 94. I can’t say I see it but others do so there you are.

On the bookshelf in his living room is a small framed photo of my father about age 3, the same age as our grandson Bert right now. Now those two do favor! Two peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth, much of a muchness. Look at them with that one smile between them, look at those eyes, little imps, look at the domes of those foreheads. Let me just scroll through all these photos Bert’s parents have texted us and you’ll surely see how Wilson and Bert favor.

But where are the photos of my father at 3 making a face, lining up his lead soldiers, stacking his rough-cut handmade blocks? Where dancing? I suspect that framed studio portrait was a Christmas present from Grandmother’s brother Sidney – the rest of the family was surviving the depression on grits and squirrel gravy, the occasional bartered hog shoulder, never two nickels to rub together. The rare snapshots we have of aunts and cousins are from Uncle Sidney’s camera, the only one in the family.

Another depression is upon us now. We are all doing without something. Photos abound but Bert is not free to stand beside his great-grandfather, to show us their one smile between them. When will the day return that may show us how much we all do favor?

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The poetry of Wendell Berry returns me to the center: the center of the fields and woods he walks; the center of time that stretches from long before me to long after; the center of meaning in a universe in which I am not the center but which nevertheless makes a place for me.

These three poems are from Mr. Berry’s book Sabbaths, published in 1987. A moment of stillness, of contemplation, of connection to the earth and all that fills it makes any place sacred and any day Sabbath. My dread, my grief, my struggle during these times are no different really from any times. These things don’t recede, they don’t disappear. They simply take their place in this moment: no before, no after, only now, and I and you and all of us connected in the journey to discover within them some promise of peace.

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VIII (1979)

I go from the woods into the cleared filed:
A place no human made, a place unmade
by human greed, and to be made again.
Where centuries of leaves once built by dying
A deathless potency of light and stone
And mold of all that grew and fell, the timeless
Fell into time. The earth fled with the rain,
The growth of fifty thousand years undone
In a few careless seasons, stripped to rock
And clay – a “new land,” truly, that no race
Was ever native to, but hungry mice
And sparrows and the circling hawks, dry thorns
And thistles sent by generosity
Of new beginning. No Eden, this was
A garden once, a good and perfect gift;
Its possible abundance stood in it
As it then stood. But now what it might be
Must be foreseen, darkly, through many lives –
Thousands of years to make it what it was,
Beginning now, in our few troubled days.

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X (1982)

The dark around us, come,
Let us meet here together,
Members one of another,
Here in our holy room,

Here on our little floor,
Here in the daylit sky,
Rejoicing mind and eye,
Rejoining known and knower,

Light, leaf, foot, hand, and wing,
Such order as we know,
One household, high and low,
And all the earth shall sing.

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III (1982)

The pasture, bleached and cold two weeks ago,
Begins to grow in the spring light and rain;
The new grass trembles under the wind’s flow.
The flock, barn-weary, comes to it again,
New to the lambs, a place their mothers know,
Welcoming, bright, and savory in itis green,
So fully does the time recover it.
Nibbles of pleasure go all over it.

all selections from Sabbaths, Wendell Berry, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1987
Thank you, Anne Gulley, who gave Linda and me this book many years ago.

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[with poems by Dannye Romine Powell]

When we lower her pack from the tree where it has swung all night like a bell mocking the bear, the skunk, she opens it and screams: a fairy crown atop her sweatshirt and socks, a perfect round nest and four perfect hairless mouse pups like squirming blind grubs. We peer in awe, shepherds at the manger.

Mother mouse has hidden herself, not in the pack with her babies. We lift the nest intact, hide it in a bush beside the tree, nestle leaves around. Mother will sniff out her precious ones, reclaim her treasure. But we have other lambs to tend.

We eat, stow gear, shoulder our packs, face the trail, and consider: the pack was in the tree just one night; the nest is woven from meadow grass where we slept; the mother who climbed – how many trips up and back? – was heavy with her brood.

Miles before us, a new year before us – how heavy will each day’s burdens become before night brings rest?

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A new book by Dannye Romine Powell arrived in the mail this week: In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver from Press 53 in Winston-Salem. I meant to read one or two poems this morning but I have read them all. A central persona that weaves through the collection is Longing: she visits rooms in old houses, unfolds memories into the light, shares the pain that others might lock in closets. Grief shared conceives within us hope to rekindle joy. Sharing grief, sharing joy, we become more human.

 

 

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The Secret

Light glazes the near-empty streets
as I drive. Beside me, my grown son asks
if a secret I thought I’d kept buried
is true. A secret
that can still catch fire.
We stop on red. A bird flies
by the windshield. My father’s words:
Easier to stand on the ground
and tell the truth than climb a tree
and tell a lie. Now, I think. Tell him.
I stare at my son’s profile,
straight nose, thick lashes.
I remember, at about his age,
how a family secret fell
into my lap, unbidden.
That secret still ransacks a past
I thought I knew, rearranging its bricks,
exposing rot and cracks,
changing the locks on trust.

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In the Night, the Wind in the Leaves

swirled and rustled
out our open window as if
for the first time,
as if we never were,
the earth newborn, sweet.

And what of us – asleep
on the too-soft bed
in the old mountain house?

Gone.

Also our children.
the ones who lived, the ones who died
before they grew whole. All night

the breeze swirled and rustled
through the leaves as if it played
a secret game, swirling
and rustling all night

as if we never were.

from In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, Dannye Romine Powell, © 2020 Press 53

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Dannye Romine Powell has won fellowships in poetry from the NEA, the North Carolina Arts Council, and Yaddo. Her poems have appeared over the years in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Harvard Review Online, Beloit, 32 Poems, and many others. She is also the author of Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers. For many years, she was the book editor of the Charlotte Observer. In 2020 she won the Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition for her poem “Argument.”

 

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, ELKIN NC

 

The Birds’ Carol
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: Mark Daniel Merritt

Elkin Community Chorus
51st Annual Christ Concert / December 4, 2011
Director: David L. McCollum / Piano and Organ: Amy Tayloe and Amy Johnson

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By 2010 Linda and I had been singing for several years with VOCE, Surry County’s invitational chorale, directed by Sandy Beam and assisted later by Mark Merritt. Mark is a talented composer and had asked me before for lyrics. That spring VOCE had been invited to perform at Bilmore House in Asheville, NC, during the Christmas season and Mark wanted to create a suite we could debut there. The Birds’ Carol is the first of three movements in The Wanderer’s Carols. The following year David McCollum selected The Bird’s Carol for Elkin Community Chorus’s 51st Annual Christmas Concert.

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The Birds’ Carol

“Morning! Morning!” trills the lark, “The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth, And we shall know God this day.

Now is the dawn of our new life,
And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook, “So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright – The Child who reclaims us from sin.

He lifts our burden upon himself,
The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove, “In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace The Prince who unites us in peace.

You make us one in all the earth,
O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new; May we fly forever in love.

Give us wings of Your perfect light,
And we’ll fly forever in love.”

 

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VOCE of Mount Airy performing The Birds’ Carol, November 14, 2010, Winston-Salem First Presbyterian Church:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDPm6MYvacA&feature=related

Discussion of the symbolism of Lark, Rook, Dove, Goose:
https://griffinpoetry.com/2011/12/17/joy-hope-peace-love/

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: David L. McCollum

 

Elkin Community Chorus 58th Annual Concert
December 2nd, 2018 – First Baptist Church, Elkin, North Carolina

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This year (2020) would have been the 60th annual concert of the Elkin Community Chorus. The ensemble draws singers from towns and counties across northwest NC, rehearses for seven weeks, and gives two free concerts to the public on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Linda and I have sung with the group for more than 30 years. We miss it. We’re listening to our stack of recordings from previous years and holding onto the hope that we’ll all be vaccinated and singing together again next fall.

David McCollum has been one of the group’s directors for more than 20 years. Several years back he asked me to write a Christmas poem for which he would compose the music. ECC debuted Wilderness Advent in 2018. Thank you, David, thank you Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe for your accompaniment, thank you Tonya Smith, co-director, and thanks to the 90 or more of our neighbors whose voices make the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of Christmas a sacrament.

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)

A stranger here, I sleep beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep and friendless.
I close myself to love, my heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song – Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream that seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream or singing?
It chants, a still small voice, I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy it’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song and welcome Him!

And now the music swells as every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell the story:
May all God’s creatures wake, hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song may worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind and all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within the manger!
With owl and bear and deer my soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here a stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song for it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . . it is Him!

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

[with poems by Lucinda Trew and Jane Craven]

Last week I took a walk in the woods with my oldest friend Bill (distanced by 2-meter dog leash). We were forest bathing (shinrin yoku): phones off, listening to Grassy Creek accompany our rustic trail, smelling leafmold, fungus, pines, going nowhere and getting there; reflecting on the moment, simmering in our conjoined past which stretches all the way back to our grandfathers who worked together on the same railroad 60 years ago.

Every trail, though, has a way of turning. Almost back to our cars, Bill happened to ask, “What are you going to do with your stuff before you die?” Us old guys, especially old poets, think about dying. Good story fodder. Let me tell you the one about . . . . Just not usually as concrete as what will become of our earthly matter when no one wants it any more.

Stoff: German, translates as substance. Two synonyms for Oxygen are Sauerstoff and Atemluft, the first meaning acid substance (early chemists’ misconception that all acids must contain oxygen) and the second meaning air for breathing. We humans can live about 3 minutes without oxygen before our brains lose neurons and our substance begins to degrade, but oxygen is pure poison to many microorganisms and tricky to deal with even for our own mammal cells (or why else would anti-oxidants be such a big deal?).

Stuff is pretty frangible. Are the moment’s mental occupations or the day’s consuming concerns any more tangible? Bill shared with me a photo of his granddad Enoch Blackley in his engineer’s gear from the 30’s, outline of pocket watch visible through the denim of his overalls. I have one very similar of my granddaddy Peewee Griffin. The bit of stuff comprising those old prints, grains of silver on paper, is mere milligrams of matter; the cubic volume of memory those images reveal is larger than many lives.

My Stoff – carbon, nitrogen, phosporus – will feed the trees. May I leave behind the tempo of my walk, the sound of laughter, honest tears of compassion, a couple of good poems. Maybe that’ll do.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets, by writers whom I don’t know and hadn’t read before. Lucinda Trew’s Of Stars fills me with wonder, all the universe in a crow-eye seed, somewhere within the secrets of universe wanting to be spilled out. Jane Craven’s Speaking of the World does just that, the image of a small flower expanding to hold the pain and contradictions of the most intimate relationships.

Metaphor is the tool that communicates the mysteries which swirl around us and within us, the inexplicable spark of our synapses, the spin of our electrons. Some things can’t be spoken, only sung.

Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Of Stars
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Sagan

The conjuring orchard man
holds hemispheres in sturdy hands
cupping chaos and creation
presenting apple halves
for inspection
and the revelation

of stars
a crop circle enigma etched
within sweet flesh
five symmetrical rays cradling
crow-eye seeds
small enough to spit
vast enough to hold eternity –
the very dust and stuff

of stars
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
phosphorus – the breath and wingbeat
of birds who rise from reeds and nest

the rush and thrum
of boys who scrabble up bark, swagger
wave applewood swords

the sway and silhouette
of branches, girls dancing
longing for the moon

of pulse and surge
of cities, song, engines
prayer

the earthen realm
of roots and worm, turnips
and bones

the axial turn
of tides and shells
molecular chains

and of apples
twisted exquisitely, evenly
in half
spilling stars
and seeds and secrets
of the universe

Lucinda Trew, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Speaking of the World

Pinprick faces open in a violet fever behind my house – swathes
of mazus flowering downhill. A cultivar

from the Himalayas, it’s bred to survive scarcity and climate extremes.

In your world, the doctors have gone, left your body

a prescribed burn, lightly
elevated in a rented hospital bed, handfuls of pills labeled for days.

The trees, to a one, freeze beneath a milky lichen – and you who sleep

year round with open windows are speaking of the world –
of the last deer you saw weaving through balsam, of the bear

who bent double the birdfeeder, wild turkeys and their long-
neck chicks, a lone slavering coyote crossing the yard.

Grief, you say
three times,
each a dry leaf
papering
from your lips.

I left you in the boreal world, rushed back to my own life.
And I admit this with unnatural ease, like there’s no shame

in turning toward the sun, in enduring.

Jane Craven, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Lucinda Trew: http://trewwords.com/about/
Jane Craven: https://www.janecraven.com/bio

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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